The Heart of the Father, Part 2
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Luke 15:7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.
In the previous blog we looked at the lost sheep. The religious leaders at the time knew that they were the shepherds of the nation of Israel. Jesus is calling them out: "Go after the lost sheep, don't condemn them!" And the sinners and tax collectors also hear what Jesus is saying. They have been excluded so far by the religous system. But they hear Jesus say: "God is NOT like that! God is looking for you and wants to bring you home!" So clearly Jesus is speaking to both groups of people.
And then Jesus concludes his parable with this weird sentence. He is saying (paraphrased): "Guys, I rejoice over that one sheep more than I do rejoice over those 99 sheep."
This of course leads to some legitimate questions. What about those 99? Does God not rejoice over those? What does it mean to "rejoice more"? So is it a good thing to get lost, so that God rejoices over us? What's going on here?
There are different opinions on this topic out there. But here's my personal conviction. This is how I understand it.
Remember the context. Jesus is talking to two groups of people. The tax collectors and sinners, the "bad people", the people who were rejected by the religious leaders. And then the leaders themselves who set up a system that includes them and rejects everybody else who can't keep up with their own laws and rules.
I personally believe that the whole chapter of Luke 15 is about these two groups of people. I believe that the two sons are a representation of these two groups of people. I believe that the parable of the Lost Coin is about the religious leaders. (More on those two parables in later blogs) And I believe that the 99 sheep and the one sheep are also contrasting the religious leaders and the tax collectors and sinners.
Let's see the symbolism behind it: The religous leaders at the time were the ones who were self righteous. They told everybody: "We're the good people. We keep the law. We meet the standard to be accepted by God. We are with God, we are accepted by God.
Those people, the tax collectors and sinners however, they are lost. They are not good enough. They don't meet the standard. They are lost. We however are with God, we are accepted by God! They are not!"
How does that relate to the 99 sheep vs. the one sheep? Well, let's see again how Jesus describes them!
- The lost sheep repents.
- The just people need no repentance.
See the symbolism? We know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). So there are no "just people who need no repentance". There are only people who THINK that they are just, that they need no repentance.
So what is Jesus doing here? I believe He is basically saying this: "Guys, you are the religious leaders and you think you are righteous by your own works. But actually, the Father doesn't rejoice over that at all. Instead He rejoices over one person who ACKNOWLEDGES that he or she is lost and needs a savior!"
Jesus is using similar language several times. For example
Matthew 9:12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
Jesus several times uses this language. He is not saying "There are people who are righteous and need no repentance." He is not saying "There are people who are sick and need me to heal them, and there are people who don't need me to heal them!" What He is saying is this:
I rejoice over those who acknowledge that they are lost, repent and put their trust in me!
In the same way, in the Matt. 9 passage, He is saying: "I heal those who acknowledge that they are sick, those who acknowledge that they need a healer. And I am that healer, and I heal those who ask me to heal them. But those who think they are well, think they don't need a doctor, I will not go after them. They first need to come to a point where they acknowledge that they need me. And then I will heal them. But they have to acknowledge their own brokenness first."
Jesus used the same language in the sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5:3-4 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
He's not saying that we need to be dumb to enter the kingdom of heaven. What He means is: "Acknowledge that you are poor in Spirit. Acknowledge your need for a savior. THEN you will enter the kingdom of heaven. If you realize how far you fall short of God's standards, then you will mourn over your sinfulness and your brokenness. And then I will come and heal and comfort you!"
When Jesus uses such language He usually doesn't talk about an "objective outside standard". He doesn't say "there are broken people and there are healthy people". He doesn't say "There are lost people and there are people who are right with God". What He is addressing is how people see themselves.
There are people who think they are healthy and good and strong with God. Jesus didn't come to convert them. But there are people who acknowledge that they are broken, that they need help, that they need a savior. Jesus came and died for those!
There are people who think they are wise in their own eyes. And there are people who acknowledge that they are poor in Spirit and need someone else's wisdom. Only the second group of people will enter the kingdom of heaven.
There are people who think highly of themselves. And there are people who mourn over their own sinfulness. The second group of people will be comforted.
And: There are people who think they are right with God through their own good works. There are people who think they are not lost. The Father doesn't rejoice over those.
But those who acknowledge that they are lost, those are the ones the Father goes after. And once He finds them, He brings them home into His kingdom. And then He throws a huge party. Because He loves to bring home those who acknowledge that they are lost.
What kind of sheep are you?
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